Last week North Dakota Democrat Party Chairman Bob Valeu made a stink about Pat Finken, the head of Odney advertising, requesting student directory information from the North Dakota University System. Valeu and Democrats called on Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to block the release of data, claiming that he could do so even though the information is public record.
Of course, the state’s open records laws may disagree. And I should note that while certain Democrat mouthpieces have been claiming that Odney was requesting the data in order fight against Measure 3 – the constitutional amendment to replace the State Board of Higher Education with a new governance structure – I spoke with Finken who told me his company doesn’t have any contracts on either side of that measure debate.
He told me he was requesting the data for his political clients who, not surprisingly, would find a database of information about the state’s college students useful. Finken wouldn’t provide specifics on which clients would use the data.
Regardless, more interesting than Democrats trying to turn a perfectly legal open records request into some sort of Watergate scandal is how the Democrats came to know of the request in the first place.
I was hoping to put together a timeline of when and how Democrats found out about Finken’s request, and I ran into an odd obstacle.
I asked NDUS spokeswoman Linda Donlin for information regarding any requests for information about Finken’s request. In response, Donlin told me the only request they received was from reporter Mike Nowatzki of the Fargo Forum. His request came in on September 25th, the same day the Democrats made their beef with Finken public in a press release.
So what gives? How did Democrats not only find out about Finken’s request, but get a copy of his email (it was appended to their September 25th press release), without making any sort of a formal request to the university system?
I’ve asked Donlin that question, as well as North Dakota Democrat Executive Director Chad Oban. I’ve not received a response from either as of the time of this posting, but I’ll update if/when I receive a response.
There are interesting implications if someone in the university system was tipping off Democrats.
The assumption from some state Democrats that Finken was requesting the information because of the Measure 3 debate is the obvious issue. The state’s university officials have made it clear that they don’t like Measure 3, but by law they are not allowed to campaign for or against ballot measures in an official capacity. One wonders, though, if someone in the university system jumped to the conclusion that Finken’s request was about Measure 3 and leaked the request to Democrats.
That, if true, would be a troubling level of collusion between the university system and a political party.